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Social work across municipality borders

Research project The responsibilities of social services are the same in every municipality in Sweden. The project studies social work in eight small municipalities with focus on knowledge, competence, and collaboration across municipal boundaries.

In collaboration between Umeå University, Region Västerbotten and eight inland municipalities, issues concerning knowledge, competence, and collaboration for a knowledge-driven social service with quality are studied. In addition to data collection through workshops, interviews and surveys, a digital needs-driven collaboration area has been created, named "the digital colleague" Furthermore, the importance of the organizational structure and challenges in the form of high staff turnover in relation to competence are studied. A Nordic overview is included.

Head of project

Annika Nordström
Other position

Project overview

Project period:

2021-01-07 2023-06-30

Participating departments and units at Umeå University

Department of Epidemiology and Global Health, Department of Social Work

External funding


Project description

Swedish municipalities and their social services in sparsely populated, rural areas often deal with few professionals, with long distances, and limited resources. At the same time the demands for high quality, and legal demands of service and support are as high as for big cities. With few social workers in the social services office there are difficulties to form special units, ex for children at risk, and therefore all social workers in these municipalities must be prepared to work with all sorts of errands. That leads to high demands for broad knowledge.. Some errands are also seldom present, which means that the possibility to build knowledge and experience will be limited.

In this research and development project in northern Sweden, social services from 8 rural municipalities and researchers from a facilitating R&D unit and Umeå university, have worked with these challenges, and one of the co-created support solutions invented is a digital collaboration platform to bridge distance and give access to several colleagues digitally. The bottom-up perspective has been the key to create a platform that is frequently used for building joint knowledge and enhanced competence.

In municipalities with a small number of social workers you most often find an integrated organizational structure and an ambition to cope with all occurring issues within your own office. Although there is a possibility for structural agreements between municipalities for shared or transferred responsibility for certain tasks it is seldom used. Formal and informal cooperation has been seen vary between places and subjects. The reasons and driving forces for that are of interest.

To work as a social worker in a small municipality with about 3 000-6 000 inhabitants, situated in very large areas with long distances, can almost be seen as a profession of its own. Within the project this issue is discussed. In addition, with a high staff turnover, it can be difficult to build stability, competence and to keep up with knowledge that is needed. Digital solutions could be one way to support the social workers even more.

Within the project there will also be a Nordic overview concerning social work in small rural areas.

External funding

Latest update: 2023-02-28